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Sweetie Review

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Two twentysomething sisters, Kay (Closton) and Sweetie (Lemon) evaluate their lives and loves in a stifling environment of sexual and family tensions.

★★★★

Following Ann Turner's extraordinary debut feature, Celia, comes an even more startling first from another woman director of the Australian New Wave.

This is a work which invites adjectives such as bizarre, weird and surreal, and which defies ready analysis or even, in a short space, description. Broadly, however, it is built on a series of intricate turns in the complex relationships on view. Centrally, these concern two sisters, internally disturbed and outwardly taciturn Kay (Colston) and vulgar, extrovert Sweetie, mad, cunning and destructive, yet possessed of an instinctive childlike sweetness and warmth. What follows when Sweetie parks herself and her drug-addicted lover on Kay and her boyfriend, Louis — already in difficulties after the unconventional circumstances which brought them together — forms the stuff of the plot.

Bleakness enshrouds the movie as Louis struggles with enforced celibacy and Kay with the inner darkness in her nature which inflicts it upon him, as Sweetie, the apple of her father's eye, pursues grotesque dreams of becoming a pop star, and as the girls' parents are driven apart by their conflicting notions of how their dangerously unhinged daughter ought to be handled.

But, for all that, Campion manages to inject authentic humour into the scenario and some near-magic sequences of beauty and tenderness (although pain is never far away) such as the surreal interlude in the outback where the mother has gone to work as a cook in an encampment of cowboys.

Written and directed with an acute ear for the cliched banality of ordinary expression, this superbly imaginative and well-acted film deals with absolute truth, in the currency of damaged emotions — frustration, disillusion, the fracturing of family and the hovering threat of derangement. It is photographed (by Sally Bongers) with a camera whose sudden focus on unexpected details — an inside car-door handle, for example — arrests the flow and wonderfully concentrates the viewer's mind on the fragmentation that is slowly taking place.

Sweetie is a deeply uncomfortable, distressing yet wholly rewarding experience.